Most Expensive Printed Book Till Date – Bay Psalm Book

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The Bay Psalm Book was the most commonly owned book next to the Bible during the seventeenth century in New England. Printed in 1640 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Bay Psalm is one of the rarest books in the world and among the finest surviving copies of original 1,700 that were printed. It is also one of the eleven surviving copies of the first book printed in British North America. It was published by the Puritan leaders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and undertook as an ambitious project. They hired Richard Mather and John Eliot to undertake the whole translation process and thus are considered the authors of the book. 

Puritans fled to the New World to avoid the domination of the Church of England and some of its practices that the Puritans considered to be too close to the Roman Catholic Church tradition. Puritans were generally more austere in their actions and their book of psalms was supposed to be a more faithful rendition from the Hebrew of the psalms.

The book is a metrical Psalter. The psalms in it are metrical translations into English. The translations ate not particularly polished and also many are not in use today. But yes, some tunes do exist even now like the Old 100th. It was produced just 20 years later when the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth, Massachusetts and thus represents a considerable achievement. It has then gone through several editions and remained in use for over a century.

A printing press arrived from London in 1638 to Massachusetts Bay in 1638 along with 240 reams of paper. Though Reverend Jose Glover, the man who raised funds for them passed away during the journey, his wife settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts and established America’s first print shop in a little house on what is now Holyoke Street in Cambridge. Stephen Day, a servant of the Glovers and a locksmith by trade took over the operations of the press and printed around 1700 copies of the 300 page Whole Book of Psalmes Faithfully Translated into English Metre, commonly known as the Bay Psalm Book.

The Bay Psalm Book has been referred to as “a crown jewel” and “the icon of American printing.” It is also a landmark in American faith, or one of its strongest colonial strains. Like all good Calvinists of the time, the Bay Colony Puritans revered the entire Bible — but after the sermon, the most important part of every church service was unison psalm singing. Since the colony was a theocracy, that meant hymnals for all its citizens.



The Whole Booke of Psalmes Faithfully TRANSLATED into ENGLISH Metre. Whereunto is prefixed a discourse declaring not only the lawfullnes, but also the necessity of the heavenly Ordinance of singing Scripture Psalmes in the Churches of God. Imprinted, 1640


Size: 6 by 5 inch Pages: 300


The book during the 19th Century became a very renowned one and people were going to many lengths just to acquire a copy of the book but they just couldn’t have it. Out of the 1700 copies, today just 11 are known to exist in various conditions and Boston’s historic Old South Church had 2 and announced they would sell one of the two copies at Sotheby’s auction house in New York. The book was last seen in the market in 1947 and then had totally disappeared. In 2013, the book was auctioned as announced and perhaps the last time the book would be put in for sale!

The book that was sold in 1947 had set a big record of its own at that moment for being purchased at $ 151,000


It was already in the records that the first book ever to be printed in English in North America. But now, It has set a new record. It is the most expensive book ever to be sold at auction. David M Rubenstein, an American businessman and philanthropist, of the Carlyle Group which is an investment firm in Washington has purchased the historical Bay Psalm Book. The bid was placed over telephone from Australia and was informed that the book would be lent to libraries across the country for display and eventually arrange a long term loan to one of them.

The auction of $ 14.2 million has surpassed the $ 11.54 paid in 2010 for a copy of John James Audubon’s “Birds of America”.



The Bay Psalm Book has always been a victim for criticism about its quality. The typography is uneven and a number of printing errors can be found in the book. A common error found in the book is the usage of inverted commas instead of apostrophes.

Publisher and author Isaiah Thomas noted 200 years ago that it “abounds with typographical errors” and “does not exhibit the appearance of good workmanship. The compositor must have been wholly unacquainted with punctuation.” Many reports said that the book was probably not of the standard of contemporary printing in London. The left hand page carries the word “psalm while the right hand page carries “psalme”.

Despite these mistakes, it has set a record as the most expensive book bought at $ 14.2 million as of 2013.

Writer | Journalist | Music Composer | Singer | Designer | Advertising Professional | – in total a pure MEDIA FREAK!

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